/ 28 May 2024

DA files suit over Ramaphosa’s alleged campaign abuse during national address

Gettyimages 2154614064 594x594
President of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, speaks to supporters during the ANC Siyanqoba Rally held at FNB Stadium on May 25, 2024 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has made good on its threat to take President Cyril Ramaphosa to the electoral court for alleged abuse of his position and public funds to campaign for the ANC.

The party asks that the court punish what it claims was an abuse by the president of an address to the nation for campaign purposes by discarding one percent of the total votes cast for the ANC in Wednesday’s elections once ballots have been counted.

In a founding affidavit, the chairperson of the DA’s federal council, Helen Zille, said Ramaphosa made himself guilty of flagrant breach of the Electoral Act and Electoral Code of Conduct by using a televised address to the nation on Sunday evening to highlight the achievements of his administration.

“The address was nothing more than a thinly veiled stump speech,” Zille said in a founding affidavit. “He sought to use his position as head of state and head of the government to encourage the public to vote for the ANC.”

The speech in several respects mirrored that Ramaphosa gave at the closing rally of the ANC’s election campaign on Saturday, she added.

The DA alleges in the affidavit that the content was reiterated in an address aired by public broadcaster SABC, several other broadcasters and the government’s YouTube channel and also streamed on the presidency’s X account.

This was in breach of section 94 of the Act, with item 9(2)(e) of the electoral code, which prohibits the abuse of positions of power to influence the outcome of the elections and section 87(1)(g), which prohibits the abuse of public funds for campaign purposes.

Zille said Ramaphosa began his address by quite appropriately thanking the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) and calling for free elections but then veered into naked campaign territory by saying the government had ended state capture and enabled unprecedented levels of investment in Eskom to alleviate the electricity crisis.

“To be clear, the DA disputes the validity of these claims. But that is not the point. The point is that they are claims designed to garner votes for the ANC.”

She then compared the claims to those made in his speech at Saturday’s Siyanqoba rally and noted similar claims were made with regards to crime, energy, youth unemployment, the minimum wage, the National Health Insurance and gender-based violence.

Zille concedes that the speeches are not identical.

“Much of the ANC’s speech is aspirational, not based on lauding the government’s supposed achievements. But when it comes to what the government has done, there is substantial overlap.”

Where Ramaphosa’s rally speech was a transparent and wholly legitimate attempt to persuade voters to back the ANC, the other was “an unlawful abuse of power and public money by a president to shore up support for his party”, Zille said.

In the televised address to the nation, his closing remarks inferred that voting for a party other than the ANC would undermine the progress he said it had made, Zille said.

Ramaphosa’s exact words were: “Let us build on the progress we have made. At this moment in our path to renewal, we cannot afford to turn back.”

Former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe party on Tuesday said it too was filing papers with the electoral court asking it to sanction Ramaphosa for “blatant violation” of the Electoral Act.

“Given the massive legal team around him, it is our contention that Ramaphosa has knowingly misused his presidential office to deploy state resources in a manner that unfairly benefits his corrupt and desperate political party,” it said. “This includes the national broadcaster and other public media outlets.”

It is asking the electoral court to hear its application on an urgent basis and deregister the ANC from the vote.

The DA acknowledges that its application will only be heard after election day, and seeks a different remedy. It asks the court to declare that the president breached sections 9(2)(e) and 87(1)(g). This is necessary to vindicate the rule of law, it says.

It also asks that the court imposes the maximum fine of R200,000 and stipulates that it be paid by the president personally. Last, the party asks that the court reduces the number of votes cast for the ANC.

“The DA submits that a reduction of one percent of the total votes the ANC received would be a fair reduction.”

It argues that the Ramaphosa was in breach not of two provisions of the Electoral Act but of the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa’s regulations on election time broadcasting, notably the regulation 5 that determines the time afforded to parties for defined political election broadcasts.

“All other parties have limited access to broadcast their political message,” it said. “Mr Ramaphosa sought to circumvent that limitation by dressing up a political election broadcast as a presidential address.”